By Jon Lees
Avid amateur David Maxwell will decline the opportunity to have champion jockey Richard Johnson ride one of his horses at next week’s Cheltenham Festival so he can partner it himself.
He owns the Philip Hobbs-trained Zizaneur, a 20-1 chance for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle who has finished second twice in his two starts since arriving in Britain from France.
Maxwell, 40, a property investor from London who claims 5lb, rode the horse at both Ludlow and Newbury and is not going to miss the opportunity to be aboard the four-year-old in £80,000 contest on Wednesday of the big meeting.
“Zizaneur is a horse I bought in France in the autumn,” said Maxwell.
“He is sensible and if you are going to ride any juvenile over hurdles he is as good a bet as any.
“I wasn’t actually planning to run him until Philip Hobbs rang me (on Tuesday morning) and said he was in such good form we should run him.
“You could question the sanity of a 40-year-old 5lb claimer riding in a juvenile hurdle at Cheltenham, but the rules say you can. You have to attain a certain level of competence, but once you have you can ride at Cheltenham and that’s pretty cool.
“I have got many years to watch professionals ride horses for me. There is no way while I am able to I will watch a pro ride mine.”
Maxwell has been riding for 20 years but in the last three seasons has devoted more of his time and money to competing, assembling a string of horses that numbers around 20.
With jockey Dave Crosse as a coach, he has ridden seven winners in Britain this season and gained a notable success in France in November by landing a Grade Three chase at Auteuil on his own Cat Tiger.
Zizaneur is one of his newest acquisitions – but not his best chance of a first winner at the Festival, for which he will rely on the Richard Hobson-trained Shantou Flyer in the all-amateur St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase.
Shantou Flyer was beaten a neck in last year’s Ultima Handicap Chase when in different ownership. Under Maxwell he has won two out of three hunter chases, the latest gained by 35 lengths at Fontwell when an odds-on favourite.
He said: “Shantou Flyer was very highly rated. He was second in the Ultima last year and likes Cheltenham.
“I think he’s been disappointing as a hunter chaser, run three times and won twice but they were not great contests and arguably he should have won them looking more like a proper horse than he did.
“I suspect he is more of a Cheltenham type of horse and a race with a bit more rough and tumble, slightly quicker pace and softer ground might suit him.”
Maxwell is one behind Sam Waley-Cohen, whose accomplishments include winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup as an amateur, in the men’s amateur championship in which he took fourth last season.
“I work incredibly hard to be as good as I can be,” he said.
“I take it very seriously and Dave Crosse does a lot of work with me on it. I’m still poor by comparison to the pros, but I try very hard to keep improving.
“Dave is very keen that I should be amateur champion. I just like going to the races and riding racehorses – and I like winning as well.”